Category Archives: US Congress

Virginians standing up to Cantor!

A group of home-state Virginians and I are planning to build a network of in-state activists– including our friends in the 7th congressional district– to stand up for our country’s interests against the near-treasonous positions on Israel being articulated by Rep. Eric Cantor.
Last Wednesday evening, on the eve of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s lengthy and difficult meeting with secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu had an hour-long tete-a-tete in New York with Cantor, who will be the “House Majority leader”, i.e. the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, as of next January. During the meeting, according to a statement issued afterwards by his office, Cantor,

    stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington… He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other.

Even Ron Kampeas, the veteran columnist over at the Jewish Telegraph Agency, was astonished, writing,

    I can’t remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another — building in Jerusalem, or somesuch — lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House — that sounds to me extraordinary.

You can find much more on the Cantor Rant, from Glenn Greenwald, here.
My friends and I haven’t decided yet what our new network will be called. Maybe something like “Virginians for Our Country’s Sanity” (VOCS)? If you’re a Virginian and you’d like to help us show Rep. Cantor that he doesn’t speak for us (or, indeed, for American military leaders responsible for the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens serving in very dangerous locations overseas), then drop us a line. Give us your name, email (obviously), street address, congressional district, and we’ll see what we can do to build the network.

The U.S. president, congress, and the world in 2010

I was at a meeting in Washington on Thursday where we were discussing the effects that the Democrats’ drubbing in the November 2 mid-terms could be expected to have on the so-called Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”. Most of the participants were understandably glum. (This was just after the news came out about Netanyahu’s Wednesday-night meeting with the GOP’s incoming House Majority Leader, the dreadful Eric Cantor. See Glenn Greenwald’s excellent commentary on that, here.)
My interest did get kind of piqued, however, when one fairly senior retired diplomat spoke up toward the end of the discussion, and said, “I disagree. I think we will see Obama liberated after the midterms, to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit. He will no longer feel he needs to look over his shoulder to keep his congressional followers behind him– because he won’t have any.”
Well, it was an interesting theory. The speaker went on to talk about how, back in 1994, Pres. Clinton had also had a horrible time in the first midterm elections of his presidency, losing the House to the GOP– but had then gone on to pursue a very successful and imaginative foreign policy.
Um, yes. Maybe. I think I disagree quite a bit about Clinton having pursued a great foreign policy. Weren’t those the years in which, fatally, and at Dennis Ross’s urging, he dropped the ball on nailing down the deadlines to complete the final-status Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement? Did he have to go on and bomb Serbia? Etc., etc.
But even if we “grant” Clinton some success… the world of 2010 is still very, very different from the world of 1994.
In 1994, the United States stood effortlessly astride the whole international system. A U.S. president could make bold moves in foreign policy (even though Clinton really didn’t do very much of that)… But he could have, both because all the other actors around the world were still much punier than the U.S., and because here inside the United States, the legacy of the Cold War and of many decades of custom before that meant that people really did act as if “politics stops at the water’s edge”… That is, even the most partisan critics of the president at home did not do anything that might undermine his ability to conduct an effective diplomacy on the world stage.
How things have changed– in both regards. Example number 1 of the latter shift is Eric Cantor himself, with the assurance he gave to Netanyahu in which, as reported by his office, he “stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration… ”
But the balance has changed a lot internationally since 1994, as well. Even the most cursory reading of the reports from the past week’s G-20 summit Seoul shows that.
In a good report on the FT website yesterday, Alan Beattie wrote,

    President Barack Obama arrived in Seoul at this week’s G20 summit chastened by the Democrats’ drubbing in the midterm elections. If he thought that he would find peace by retreating to the rarefied heights of international summitry, he was sadly mistaken.

He went on to note the tide of criticism that has been rising internationally (including among all other 19 members of the G-20), since the U.S. Federal reserve announced its policy of renewed “quantitative easing” (QE2,also known as “printing more dollars”) two weeks ago.
He commented,

    To be fair, Mr Obama’s administration, although few doubt it is highly sympathetic to QE2, cannot control the Fed and does not comment on monetary policy. Still, American policymakers have shown a curious reluctance to defend the US more generally in public. It was just this Thursday, more than a week after the Fed’s QE2 decision, that Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, went on TV effectively to rebut the widespread international charge that it was pursuing a weaker dollar.
    Once, this reticence would not have mattered. In the heady days of the late 1990s when Mr Geithner was last at the Treasury and the department often appeared to be running global economic policy single-handed, it generally had the financial and reputational clout to get its way at international meetings without having to orchestrate the mood music beforehand. But being the strong, silent type only works for those powerful enough to let their strength do the talking.

Interesting observation…
Bottom line: Once upon a time, the U.S. was so powerful internationally that a U.S. president could almost always portray himself as successful if he took actions on the world stage… and many U.S. presidents used this power with some success to try to counteract the erosion of their political support at home. (Think of Nixon on his farewell tour to Paris; or earlier, going to China.)
Now, though, that card suddenly doesn’t seem available for a U.S. president. Indeed, Washington’s international clout is so diminished– in part because of the disastrous policies pursued by Pres. G. W. Bush, in part because of other, longer-term processes, including the country’s apparent inability to escape the shackles of heavy, longterm military spending– that today, if a president launches any significant initiative overseas he runs a serious and probably increasing risk of appearing even weaker at home because of the way his initiative gets dissed abroad.
…And so the world turns.

Tom Perriello– one of the Valiant 108!

Our local Congressman, Tom Perriello (VA-5) is ramping up for a tough re-election race this fall. He was just elected by a hair’s-breadth in November ’08, beating out the long-serving, party-switching, business-beholden, war-loving Republican, Virgil Goode.
Perriello has already been targeted by a rightwing “Tea Party” blogger who posted what he thought was the Congressman’s home address, inviting fellow rightwingers to “visit him and express their thanks” for the vote he cast in favor of the healthcare reform bill. But they got the address wrong, so it ended up being the house of the Congressman’s brother, who has several small children, that got targeted instead…
Perriello and his people are eager to get the fund-raising ball rolling well. I guess tonight is one of the quarterly deadlines.
One of the things that most impresses me about our great congressman right now is that he was one of the Valiant 108– the members of Congress who resisted AIPAC’s blandishments to sign off on the AIPAC-circulated letter recently delivered by all the other 327 members to Secretary Clinton (PDF here.)
The letter reaffirms the signers’ “commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists
between our country and the State of Israel”, etc etc. It also in effect slaps the administration’s hand for having dared to express public disquiet– oh yes, actually “condemnation”– over PM Netanyahu’s recent arrogance and law-breaking regarding East Jerusalem:

    We recognize that, despite the extraordinary closeness between our country and
    Israel, there will be differences over issues both large and small. Our view is that such
    differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding
    strategic allies.

So, huge kudos to Rep. Perriello and the rest of the Valiant 108. The numbers of those Congressmen and Congresswomen resisting the pressures to sign off any old cocktail napkin AIPAC puts in front of them is slowly growing. May their numbers increase even faster!
But I guess for that to happen, we need to make sure that a person of principle like Tom Perriello doesn’t get picked off at the polls this November. Dig deep.

More on Turkey: Özel, Rosenberg

Related to what I blogged here earlier about the (re-)emergence of Turkish (mainly soft) power in the Middle East in recent years, I just want to note:

  • this blog post today from the experienced Turkish analyst and secularist democracy advocate Soli Özel, writing about the unraveling of the political power inside Turkey of its once all-powerful military; and
  • this Huffpo piece by M.J. Rosenberg on how the pro-Israel lobby helped get a congressional committee to pass the resolution designating what the Ottoman authorities did to the Armenians in 1915 as a genocide.

Özel writes,

    In the upcoming weeks and months, all observers of the Turkish political scene will have a lot to get used to: Fitful though it may be, the country’s political modernization is running apace and a new political architecture is being formed.
    The recent television images of 49 retired and active duty officers (two force commanders and a deputy chief of staff among them) being removed from their homes by the police and taken into custody were quite a shock. Many of the detainees were arrested and will await trial possibly on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Turkish government in 2003 as part of an alleged plan named “Sledgehammer.”
    The immediate reaction abroad was one of apprehension about the military’s possible retaliation. When all the generals and admirals of the Turkish military met the evening of the arrests, the level of anxiety only escalated. In the end, nothing much happened—a different story from other times, when the military called all the shots.

He runs through the key developments in the ever-continuing revelation of additional coup plots over recent years, and concludes thus:

    What is happening in Turkey is a transformation of the old order and a radical shift in the balance of power from the military towards the civilians. The military, until recently, provided the backbone for the Turkish political system, and it was the custodian of the existing order as well as the provider of its ideology. Urban middle classes for far too long relied on the military to fight their secularist battles for them and abdicated their responsibilities.
    These days are over and the Turkish political system needs a new institutional arrangement and a new ideological framework. The fierceness of the battle reflects the magnitude of the stakes and the increasing mobilization of the civilian forces. This is no less than a battle for the soul and the identity of a new Turkish republic.
    Turkey passed an important threshold in the great power shift from the military to civilian authorities that started at the beginning of the decade. Whether this deepening civilianization will lead, as expected, to a rule-based democratic consolidation and finally finish the “second transition” from democratic government to democratic regime remains to be seen.

His whole post there is definitely well worth reading. (And it has considerable relevance for the political dynamics throughout the Middle East, given the fact that the Turkish military were the lynchpin of the Israeli-Turkish relationship that got built in the 1990s; Turkey’s civilian political forces– far less so!)
For his part, Rosenberg draws attention to this piece published recently by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which reported that,

    In the past, the pro-Israel community [i.e. the Israel lobby] , has lobbied hard against previous attempts to pass similar resolutions, citing warnings from Turkish officials that it could harm the alliance not only with the United States but with Israel — although Israel has always tried to avoid mentioning the World War I-era genocide.
    In the last year or so, however, officials of American pro-Israel groups have said that while they will not support new resolutions, they will no longer oppose them, citing Turkey’s heightened rhetorical attacks on Israel and a flourishing of outright anti-Semitism the government has done little to stem.
    That has lifted the fetters for lawmakers like Berman (Chairman Howard Berman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) , who had been loath to abet in the denial of a genocide; Berman and a host of other members of the House’s unofficial Jewish caucus have signed on as co-sponsors.”

Recalling the vehemence of the anti-Turkish actions taken by Netanyahu and various Israeli officials ever since Turkey’s civilian government dared to criticize Israel’s December 2008 assault on Gaza, Rosenberg writes,

    That battle is now being carried to Washington. The Israelis are trying to teach the Turks a lesson. If the Armenian resolution passes both houses and goes into effect, it will not be out of some newfound compassion for the victims of the Armenian genocide and their descendants, but to send a message to Turkey: if you mess with Israel, its lobby will make Turkey pay a price in Washington.
    And, just maybe, the United States will pay it too.

Indeed, he’s right. At a time when NATO is deeply entangled in fighting in Afghanistan, and NATO’s only majority-Muslim member-state Turkey is generously contributing to that effort, the idea that a few Israel-influenced lawmakers in Washington might take actions that are almost certainly designed to rile Ankara is beyond belief.
What benefit do U.S. lawmakers, the people they represent– or come to that, the Armenians in Armenia, California, or anywhere else– actually gain by having the U.S. Congress pass this resolution? None, at all, except perhaps a momentary feeling of self-congratulation.
Meanwhile, on the ground in Armenia and Turkey, the two governments have been working hard together to find a way to address the misdeeds of the ancient past while also building a good working relationship going forward together. That, in line with the strategic approach of the country’s government and its brilliant foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, that Turkey should have “zero problems with the neighbors.” Thus, last October, the two countries signed a historic agreement to open their borders and to establish, too, a joint historical commission to examine the records of what happened in 1915.
Even Hillary Clinton went to the signing ceremony for the agreement, which was held in Zurich. (She jumped in at the last moment and was given a cameo role by the two governments, who wanted to secure her buy-in to it by letting her solve some of the agreement’s last details. Smart thinking there– especially in view of the strong opposition to the agreement that had been voiced inside much of the US’s well-organized Armenian community.)
And finally, some breaking news here, from the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman:

    Turkey warned the Obama administration on Friday of negative diplomatic consequences if it doesn’t impede a US resolution branding the World War I-era incidents as “genocide.”
    Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey, a key Muslim ally of the US, would assess what measures it would take, adding that the issue was a matter of “honor” for his country.
    A US congressional committee approved the measure Thursday. The 23-22 vote sends the measure to the full House of Representatives, where prospects for passage are uncertain. Minutes after the vote, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the US.

Watch this space.

Far-right Israeli gov’t cracks down– on members of US Congress!

Well, they do say that those whom the Gods want to destroy, first they make crazy… And here is the evidence that it this is indeed happening in today’s Israel. The ultra-right in Israel has always attacked many members of the ethnic-Palestinian leadership in Israel for being “anti-patriotic”, “traitorous”, or a “fifth column”. But in recent weeks, a really vile proto-fascist organization called Im Tirzu has come out with a campaign of unprecedented vituperativeness against such pillars of the left-Zionist establishment as Naomi Chazan, a former deputy Speaker of the Knessset who is the chair of New Israel Fund.
Just scroll down in this recent post by the indefatigable Didi Remez to see the grotesque caricature of Dr. Chazan that Im Tirzu published recently.
And now, Israel’s hard right has gone even crazier. Yesterday, the foreign ministry, which is headed by the ultra-rightists Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon, even intervened to prevent four visiting members of the U.S. Congress from meeting Israel’s president, the veteran politician and former prime minister Shimon Peres!
The four are are William Delahunt (D-Mass.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Mary Jo Kilroy (D.-Ohio)
The foreign ministry reportedly sought to block their visit with Peres because the short regional tour on which the four are traveling was organized by J Street, the newish Jewish organization in town that proudly describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace”, and Churches for Middle East Peace, a much smaller pro-peace advocacy group that is also a staunch supporter of Israel’s existence and security. (Full disclosure: I sit on the Leadership Council of CMEP.)
No word on whether Peres himself, who used to the head of the Labour Party and who always used to pride himself on being pro-peace, tried to over-ride the foreign ministry in the matter.
This morning, Rep. Delahunt issued a statement noting that the group had just returned from Sderot in southern Israe, “where we had a very emotional meeting with the Mayor and residents from whom we better understood the trauma and pain they have endured…
He added,

    We were puzzled that the Deputy Foreign Minister has apparently attempted to block our meetings with senior officials in the Prime Minister’s office and Foreign Ministry – questioning either our own support of Israel or that we would even consider traveling to the region with groups that the Deputy Foreign Minister has so inaccurately described as “anti-Israel.”
    In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship.
    We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations. There are undoubtedly a range of opinions in this country as there are in the United States on how best to secure our common goal of peace and security for Israel and all the peoples of the region.
    It is unwise for anyone to take disagreements as to how to accomplish our common goals and purpose – which is to achieve peace and security – and to misrepresent those differences as questioning support and concern for the state of Israel itself.

Delahunt, I should note, has been one of the wisest members of congress on issues relating to Iraq in recent years. Back in 2007, he sponsored some key hearings in which he made an honest attempt to listen to, understand, and engage with the range of views of the elected parliamentarians in Iraq– including parliamentarians who were strong opponents of the US’s continued military presence there.
At a broader level, it’s important to note, too, that support for Israel has nearly always, historically, been a lot stronger in the Democratic Party here in the US, than in the Republican Party. If Lieberman and Ayalon now feel ready to treat four Democratic members of congress in such a humiliating way, that marks a sea-change in US-Israeli relations.
Of course, these four courageous members of Congress will need all the help they can get from fair-minded citizens in their own constituencies and around the country, because almost certainly the chorus of anti-J Street organizations in this country, from AIPAC on down, will most likely seek to punish them during the coming months as they seek the funds they’ll need to get re-elected next November.